BROOKINGS – Churches are sanctuaries for many in times of crisis, but the COVID-19 pandemic is forcing many houses of worship to rethink how they serve people, even to the point of shutting their doors, but this should be a time of hope and thinking of others, not fear, local clergy said.
Decisions are being made minute-by-minute during the coronavirus outbreak, so check with your favorite house of worship for the latest updates.
Canceling services might seem extreme but it’s necessary for people’s health and safety, according to Pastor David Schoeld of First Lutheran Church.
“I hope with all my heart that right now I’m overreacting. I really do. But if I don’t overreact and something bad goes on …,” he said.
Schoeld pointed out that internationally some people with no symptoms have tested positive.
“How many people are gonna test positive if we were able to test a lot more broadly than we are?” he asked.
He has family in other states “and their lives are very disrupted,” he said. His daughter lost both of her jobs because of work shutdowns. “We on the Plains think it just isn’t gonna encroach on our world.”
He wants people to really consider before defying the recommendations by the CDC.
“I think we just create the possibility to make things worse,” Schoeld said.
He worries when he sees groups of teenagers gathering and hears adults planning to keep having coffee together, clinging to their rituals.
“It’s clinging in that way that’s contributing to the problem,” Schoeld said. “I find it frustrating.
“How do you break patterns to save lives? Because that’s what we’re talking about. We have to be willing to shatter the comfort zone in which we’ve gotten used to living to make sure other people’s lives matter,” he said.
Even in the midst of chaos, Schoeld sees a way churches can learn how to better serve.
“Maybe this will give us new avenues in the long run to be able to be with people where they are in a culture that is so mobile and so transient that it gives them a place of stability,” he said.
Pastor Steve Norby is already looking ahead and telling his staff to not be fearful in this tumultuous time, according to Amber Hobbie, operations manager at GracePoint Wesleyan.
“We just want to be agents of peace throughout all our church community (and) the community of Brookings,” Hobbie recalled Norby saying.
Aaron Cloud, GracePoint’s ministry development pastor, had a message, too.
“Our method of church looks different, but the mission is still the same: just to point people to Christ,” Hobbie said.
GracePoint Wesleyan Church has made the decision to shut its doors, according to Hobbie.
The church board met Monday night, and staff had a long meeting Tuesday morning, and staff will be communicating with each other to work out details, Hobbie said.
“For the time being, for our services, we will only be doing online services,” Hobbie said.
GracePoint wants to find ways to keep everyone connected.
They will be setting up a link at gpw.church/live, and it will give them a link to the live service, she said Wednesday. If people want, they can text GRACE to 605-609-1060; they will get a message back with the link so they can watch it on their phone.
Services can usually be found on Facebook Live, she added.
“This is all uncharted territory for everybody, so we don’t know for sure how long we will be doing that. For sure the next couple weeks and we’ll just have to play it by ear,” Hobbie said.
GracePoint offers communion on the first Sunday of the month, so the next time it is scheduled to be offered would be April, she said.
Norby and the other pastors plan to record mid-week discipleship moments and post them online. Other videos will be posted on the Facebook page “just to keep people engaged,” she added.
The office will have a few staff members around, but “it’s just very limited in person, in interactions. We’re just trying to be safe,” Hobbie said.
There are no activities at their location, Hobbie said.
“That includes outside groups,” she said, adding that the two home school groups will not be meeting at GracePoint until further notice.
The youth pastor planned to do an Instagram Live post Wednesday instead of having a meeting. They’ve found most young people use Instagram or Snapchat, Hobbie said.
The preschool follows the public school schedule and will be closed as long as they are, she said.
For the latest on GracePoint, visit gracepointwesleyan.org or call 605-692-6671.
Caution is the name of the game, she said.
“It still doesn’t feel really real to me – because there are no cases in Brookings. But I also just don’t want to be careless – we’re just trying to think of others, too, and be safe,” Hobbie said.
St. Thomas More
Catholic Masses have been suspended by order of the bishop.
“It’ll be pretty quiet around here,” said Fr. Terry Anderson of St. Thomas More Catholic Church.
Word came down from Bishop Donald DeGrood of the Diocese of Sioux Falls on Tuesday that all public Masses are suspended until further notice.
DeGrood made the announcement on sfcatholic.org. His full message can be read there.
The recommendation to limit gatherings to 10 people by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was instrumental in the decision, DeGrood said.
“Mindful of our own call as Catholics to seek the common good, we have directed that all daily Masses and all Sunday Masses prayed in parishes are suspended until further notice. This suspension takes effect on March 18, 2020, and includes all gatherings for social and educational purposes in Catholic facilities. It will remain in effect until further notice,” DeGrood’s statement reads.
“This extraordinary measure has been directed after prayerfully asking God for His assistance in guiding His Church, in collaboration with the diocesan consultors and careful study of information gathered by government officials and recommendations given by medical professionals. We believe it is the prudent decision in keeping with the directives of many bishops throughout the United States who have made this prudential decision,” DeGrood’s statement reads.
Anderson said they were going to send out email alerts to people who have signed up for them. Those emails will include the bulletin and other information. People can call the parish with questions.
St. Thomas More had already canceled all large group activities, Anderson said.
The school at St. Thomas More is closed.
“We follow the public schools,” Anderson said. “Because there’s no school there, our Catholic school is shut down for now.”
The religious education program follows the school schedule, as well, so it will also be shut down as long as the public schools are, he added.
Other life events are being downscaled.
“We’re kind of limiting baptisms and funerals now to smaller groups,” Anderson said, adding he had people wanting to have children baptized this weekend. “Normally, we do them as a group; now we do them separate.”
For more information about St. Thomas More Catholic Church, visit stmbrookings.weebly.com or call 692-4361.
First Lutheran Church
Schoeld announced in a video on the church website that all activities are suspended until further notice.
The traditional worship service will be broadcast at 11 a.m. on 1430AM KBRK and the contemporary service will be broadcast at 10:30 a.m. on Facebook Live. Wednesday evening services will be online. Church staff is looking at ways Bible study and meetings can be offered online using social media, he said.
“We believe that the best path forward is to do our best to care for and love our neighbors. Because of this, we have chosen to suspend all activities at First Lutheran Church and the Mission Coffeehouse,” Schoeld said in the video. That includes all on-site worship; education, children’s and youth ministries studies and meetings.
“No preschool, no coffeehouse, no Toastmasters, no meetings, no nothin’. Only those things that are really necessary,” he said in a phone call to the Register on Wednesday.
“As we walk through this season of Lent, through these 40 days, we remember the Biblical reality that we are not the first to walk in difficult, wandering, and confusing uncertain places. There is a history in our faith of people like this. And so we do this with the faith that God walks with us,” Schoeld said in the video.
He’s relying on that faith as he and his staff try to cope with a situation that changes minute by minute.
“We are really just trying to figure out how to remain well-connected, both in the community of faith and just as people of faith with God at the center,” Schoeld said. “Trying to come up with answers that are just good guesses at best.
“The one thing we’ll continue to focus on is spiritual and pastoral care as best we can,” he said. “We’re fully available; the pastors are around.”
Even with minimal staff on the premises, they are fighting COVID-19.
“We’ve got our janitors going through everything and just doing the deepest clean we can,” Schoeld said.
He confirmed communion is suspended. He knows some churches have opted to do “drive-by communion,” but he does not feel comfortable with it.
“It encourages people to just be out in the community,” he said.
One of the few things First Lutheran is still doing are funerals, but they are asking people to not come if they are not immediate family; as well as having “them sitting pews apart,” he added.
“Baptisms are something we will likely postpone until we are back in Sunday morning worship,” Schoeld said. The exception is if there is a fear the person might die soon.
He pointed out in the past, it was tradition that no one was baptized during Lent.
“Often only a couple, three days a year were baptisms done,” he said, adding “So, we think for a few weeks … we’ll wait on baptisms.”
For more information, visit First Lutheran’s website at tdjesus.org or call 692-6251.
Contact Jodelle Greiner at [email protected]